Less is More at Christies


This week the auction world kicks into high gear with Christie’s and Sotheby’s much anticipated Impressionist and Modern Day and evening sales on November 3 and 4 in New York. According to specialists at Christie’s the number of lots offered this season is down from the usual 50 to 60 lots to a leaner 41 lots. Connor Jordan, the newly appointed Head of the Evening sale and a seasoned Christie’s veteran stressed that well priced, tightly edited offerings typified the evening sale.

Pissarros, Le Quai Malaquais et l’Institut, (1890–1903). Courtesy of Christie’s.

As always, there are standouts. Take two impressive Pissarros, Le Quai Malaquais et l’Institut, a 1903 oil-on-canvas work that had been restituted to a member of the Fischer estate after it had been confiscated over 70 years ago. The work was scheduled to be sold last June in London but was withdrawn and is now on the block for $1.5–2.5 million.  And after spending the last 70 years in a Swiss bank vault, the work, which depicts the budding trees in a springtime Paris, is in excellent condition. Gisela Bermann Fischer searched for over 12 years for the lost painting she last saw in her parent’s house the night before the Nazi invasion of Vienna.

The work Le Pont de Chemin de fer, Pontoise, also by Pissarro, makes for an interesting counterpoint. It displays the “classical qualities of balance and repose”—it’s a quintessential Impressionist picture that explores the landscape of Pontoise while incorporating an iron rail bridge and train. The work was last seen at auction in 1997 and sold for $2.7 million, and it now carries an estimate of $3.5–4.5 million.

Pissarro wanted to keep things real—like his friend Monet, whose outstanding Vetheuil, effet de soleil is one in a series of 15 paintings the artist executed in the summer and fall of 1901, according to Christie’s. The Christie’s catalogue modestly calls it a part of a “most momentous change in the career of the most revolutionary Impressionist.” It is indeed a stunning picture of late afternoon that seems to lay the groundwork for the serial paintings of the Thames and water gardens. At least 7 of the 15 works are represented by museums, but this work may disappear into a collection never to be seen again. The estimate is a reasonable $5–7 million.

Danseuses, an 1896 pastel of two dancers at rest, displays Degas’ unique ability in his late career to capture an emotionally exhausted moment using an astonishing exquisite build up of chalk,.  It carries an estimate of $7–9 million, well worth the price tag. Christie’s tight sale has several worthy and unusual modern masters-take the Matisse cut-out Rosace, the maquette for a stained glass window in memory of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller for the chapel  at Union Church in Pocantico, New York. This was the last major commissioned work completed by Matisse before his death in 1954. It is a wonderful view into the artists late process of using pre-painted cut-outs. The work is being sold by the Estate of Jack Dreyfus, the influential wall streeter; the work hasn’t been seen for decades and carries a presale estimate of $5–7 million.

No sale is complete without a splashy Picasso, and Christie’s has a Dora Maar portrait from 1943 with a blood red background estimated $7–10 million. The 41 lots at Christie’s carry a high low estimate of $68 million to $97 million. The sale may be small, but Christie’s seems to have gone for quality not quantity.